Fellow Suarez International instructor Alex Nieuwland and I hosted Randy Harris for the Zero to Five Feet Pistol Gunfighting class. I took Zero to Five Feet Gunfighting from Gabe Suarez a couple of years ago, but I’m glad to get a chance to do some more of this stuff. I don’t have any sort of martial arts background, and I’m conscious that hands-on training is a weak point in my skill set, so I generally jump on any opportunity to work on this sort of thing.
We had nine students in the class, not including Alex and myself. Randy also brought along Ryan who has a martial arts background and has taken this class several times, as a demo dummy and an opposing force (OPFOR). Almost all of the folks in this class were familiar faces that had taken one or more of our previous courses.
I ran the Force-on-Force portion of the class with a pair of KWA airsoft pistols. I also brought a pair of Nok trainers to do knife training and enough dummy guns to outfit half the class for the disarm drills. For the live fire section of the class, I brought a pair of Glock 17s (one of them RMRed). Other folks brought a mix of airsoft guns and Umarex CO2 pistols for the Force-on-Force stuff. On the live fire end of things, we had one student with an HK USP .45. Everybody else brought Glocks (including several TSD guns), and most of them had custom parts.
We started out with the usual administrative business of signing waivers and promising on video not to sue. After this Randy showed several surveillance-camera and dash-cam videos of assaults and shootings. Some of these I’d seen before while others were new to me. The videos demonstrated some points about mindset and the reality of how very close quarters confrontations unfold. I think they were a perfect way to start the class.
After some discussion of the videos, we played the slappy hands and touch my stomach games. Randy has students do these to make a point about distance and reaction time. The more distance you’ve got, the more time you have to deal with an incoming attack. He also did some demonstrations of body structure, showing how angling your foot out, turning your head, and raising your elbow to the side compromise and weaken your structure. We want to avoid doing these things ourselves and take advantage of our opponents doing these things (or even induce them to).
Next up was acclimatizing the students to some physical contact. We paired up, and one member of the pair would shove or grab the other, while the other member tries to get around to his flank. The idea of getting to a better position relative to the bad guy is one that’s fundamental to this class. Standing there and playing rock-em-sock-em robots with an attacker is generally a bad idea. Doing the same with guns or knives is even worse. Getting to his flank or rear limits his ability to hit us and prevents him from being able to foul our draw when we attempt to deploy a gun or knife (“position before acquisition,” as Randy puts it).
After having us work this on our own for a while, Randy showed us some techniques to make flanking the guy a bit easier. One option is to bump his arm upwards and duck under it. Another is the arm drag, where you knock his arm to one side and pull it, getting him turned around.
Randy gave a brief version of his PESTS lecture, covering alertness, pre-assault cues, and pre-fight maneuvering. The element of this that has a particular bearing on the Zero to Five Feet curriculum is the ‘fence.’ This is our default position for stopping the encroachment of a potential attacker: hands at chest level, palms out. This gets our hands up and in position to block or deliver physical blows without looking like an aggressive fighting stance.
We brought out the airsoft guns and started with the Matt Dillion drill. Pairs of students started out about 3-4 yards apart, airsoft guns holstered, then tried to outdraw each other. As usual, unless someone entirely muffed the draw, the result was both parties getting shot within a fraction of a second of each other.
Randy talked about the OODA loop, and how we can exploit the attacker’s OODA loop by getting off the X. To help us do this, he demonstrated our takeoff footwork for busting off the X as quickly as possible. We started out working on this with the bad guy’s gun pointed directly at good guy’s head, with his finger on the trigger. The minute he sees any movement from the good guy, he shoots. The good guy has to use the takeoff to get out of the way before that shot comes. The ducking motion that the takeoff produces makes this surprisingly easy. We followed this up with some drills where the bad guy draws and shoots at the good guy’s original position while the good guy gets off the X.
After lunch, we covered immediate responses to an incoming physical attack. It can be hard to throw a good block against an initial surprise attack when all you see is a blur of incoming motion, so rather than a block that requires you to diagnose the angle of the incoming attack, Randy advocates a couple of universal responses that cover up the most vulnerable spots.
The first of these is the helmet. You basically use the left arm in a vertical elbow shield to cover up the left side of the head and the right arm in a horizontal elbow shield to cover the right side and the face. It also leaves both elbows pointed at the attacker, ready to be driven into his face. An even more direct counterattack is the cowcatcher. This is basically a stiff-armed double chin jab at the opponent’s face, with your head tucked down between the arms for protection.
Now it’s important to note that you’re not supposed to stand there in the helmet and let him wail on you. These are split-second techniques for dealing with the initial assault. You need to follow up immediately and aggressively.
One way Randy demonstrated doing this is the underhook and pike. If someone tries to hit you with a high line attack and you step into him aggressively, you’ll probably end up with the arm he attacked with over your shoulder. You can hook his elbow with your left arm and stiff-arm his head to keep him stretched out. From this position you can easily send him to the ground, or break his elbow, depending on your rules of engagement.
While the underhook and pike works great, it’s a bit fiddly and relies on him putting himself in the right position for you to do it.
Randy also covered some more basic strikes: the chin jab, elbow strike, hammer fist, and knee strike. He brought some Thai pads for us to practice hitting something with these strikes. As someone without any martial arts background, I appreciated the chance to do this. Being able to deliver some force and see what it feels like makes a huge difference.
After spending some time pounding on the Thai pads, we switched back to airsoft guns for some more practice getting off the X. Taking it one step further than our earlier drills, the good guy student would not only takeoff and get off the X, they also drew and returned fire against the bad guy. After working this for a while, we added in the final element, allowing the bad guy to take not just the initial shot at the good guy’s position on the X, but to track the good guy and attempt to engage him with additional shots.
Moving back to the more physical aspects of the fight, Randy talked about ground fighting. When you’re hands-on with someone there’s a significant chance of going to the ground, so we need to be prepared for that eventuality. That said, we really don’t want to go to the ground intentionally or to stay there after going down. Groundwork is popular in MMA, but our context is different. Inside the octagon, your opponent isn’t going to pull out a knife and start stabbing, nor is his friend going to come up and start kicking you in the head.
If you do get knocked down and your opponent is still standing, it’s best to try to fend off the opponent with your feet, to keep them from closing in on you. This may give you time to deploy a weapon, or even get back up. You may even be able to use your feet to trip them up and get them on the ground as well. If they get by your feet, you can grab their legs and roll into them to take them down.
The minute we can get enough time and distance, whether by kicking them back or taking them to the ground and rolling away, our highest priority is getting to our feet. We teach using the Turkish get-up (similar to the kettlebell technique) to do this. It has the advantage of keeping you facing the opponent and leaving one hand free to hold a weapon while you’re getting up.
In addition to being knocked to the ground, there’s also the possibility of someone trying an intentional takedown, so Randy talked a bit about how to resist a takedown attempt. The technique he taught is called the sprawl. You move your hips and legs back to get them out of the opponent’s reach and give yourself a more solid base to work from.
Finally, we talked a bit about what to do if you ended up on the ground with the assailant on top of you. If he’s in your guard (on top of you with your legs wrapped around him), you may be able to get a knee or foot into him to shove him back (or scoot yourself away). Alternatively, you can grab his arm and shift him to the side, clearing him from a weapon you want to draw. Then finish the fight with the tool.
If he’s in the mount position (on top straddling you), this is exceedingly dangerous and requires immediate action on your part. One option is to raise your hips and try to buck him off. Another is to drag him down towards you and try to turn his head around like an owl. His body will follow eventually and roll him off you. Whatever you do, do it fast!
The third possibility is that he’ll be in a side control position (on top of you with his body and your’s perpendicular). From this position, you can roll over on your side and scoot your hips back to help escape.
With this, we finished our discussion of ground fighting. Hands on experience would have to wait for tomorrow because now it was time for dinner. We had a spaghetti dinner catered, and Alex cooked up some beer brats for us.
While we were waiting on the bratwurst, I brought out a rack of ribs and a t-shirt for testing my TSD Grab-n-Stab. It went through them like a hot knife through butter. I’m pleased with this blade; it’s become a standard part of my EDC gear.
After dinner, quite a few folks stuck around, and we talked quite a ways into the night. This kind of fellowship is one of my favorite parts of an S.I. class and tonight was no exception.
The next morning we started out with some more shoving to get warmed up, then segued into some basic GOTX drills.
Our first new subject for the day was disarming. There are a lot of different disarm techniques out there, with many of them reasonably fiddly. The one S.I. teaches is on the simple and brutal side. The key steps here are to get out of the way of the muzzle, acquire a grip on the attacker’s wrist, and then strip the gun out. The wrist goes one way, and the gun goes the other. We recommend following up by beating the opponent a bit with his own gun.
The basic recipe varies a bit depending on where the gun is: in your face, in your gut, in your side (in front of or behind the arm), screwed into the side of your head, sticking in your back, or pressed into the back of your head. The basic principles remain the same, however. There are a few of these positions where, rather than stripping the gun, you can tie up his gun arm by clamping it under your elbow or using an underhook and pike instead.
We spent a while practicing all of these variations, as well as some retention techniques to prevent getting your gun taken away when an attacker latches onto it.
Next up was dealing with knife attacks. Going up against a tactical knife with empty hands is not an easy proposition, so we concentrated on deflecting the initial attack and gaining enough time and distance to deploy a pistol or your knife. Time and distance are critical, and this is where a lot of gun-focused techniques that try to get the gun out while blocking the assailant’s attacks really fail. To stop the initial attack, we throw up one arm to block. With the other arm, we strike at the attacker’s face or head while getting off the X away from the incoming knife. This creates enough time and distance to draw without getting stabbed.
During one of the knife drills where I was the attacker, my training partner didn’t quite pull his punch and rang my bell pretty quick. I shook it off and got back into the drills quickly, but I found myself unconsciously throwing up my left hand to block his strike without even thinking about it.
After the knife drills, we switched back to airsoft and did some multiple adversary work. We set up with two assailants, one armed with a gun and the other with a knife (the good guy didn’t know which was which until they attacked). Each person had the opportunity to run it twice. The first couple of good guys were folks with lots of previous experience who went in and jammed the gunman’s pistol in the holster and used him as a human shield while they shot the knife-armed attacker. When it was my turn, I jammed Alex’s gun and body-checked him into a wall while I drew my pistol and lit up Ryan. It worked great (tactical rugby was always my forte).
At this point, Randy mentioned that while going hands-on with one of the opponents is perfectly valid, you don’t necessarily have to do it that way. So when I ran the drill a second time I got off the X, stacked the knife-wielding attacker in front of the gun-wielding one and shot the hell out of them. It worked beautifully.
These drills were sort of the capstone to the GOTX force-on-force part of the class, and the results were kind of interesting. Folks who moved quickly and aggressively did well. Those who waited too long or backpedaled often ended up shot, stabbed, or on the ground.
While we discussed groundwork the previous afternoon, we hadn’t really had a chance to get any hands-on experience. We remedied that, giving everyone an opportunity to work with the different techniques one-on-one. Our groundwork was capped off by some two-on-one scenarios.
Before we broke for lunch, we had one final beatdown. Ryan got padded up in helmet, gloves, and chest protector and each of us went full on with him a couple of times. With him padded up like that, we could go against him pretty hard and he didn’t cut us much slack either. After some of the more cooperative drills, we’d been doing, going up against this level of resistance was pretty eye-opening.
After that rather braking experience, we broke for lunch, then drove out to the range for the live fire portion of the class.
The live-fire portion began with some fairly simple draw and shoot drills just to make sure everyone was on the same page with the draw stroke. Then everyone paced left and right while shooting to get comfortable with shooting on the move. Randy followed that up with some live-fire GOTX drills, first to the 3 and 9 o’clock directions, then to 2 and 10, and finally to 5 and 7 o’clock.
Next, he demonstrated an easier way for a right-handed shooter to handle the 5 o’clock direction by sidestepping and getting off the X more like we do to the 7 o’clock, shooting one-handed. During the force-on-force drills, I’d noticed that one of the students had a habit of swapping his pistol to the left hand when he was getting off the X to his right. He’d trained with Gabe about four years ago when this was S.I.’ s standard solution for the 5 o’clock line and for him, the ‘turning the 5 into 7’ technique was a real revelation. I think this really demonstrates one of S.I.’s strengths: we are not practitioners of static doctrine. We’re always seeking a better way do so something and improve what we’re teaching.
Randy showed how to get your gun into action with your support hand. You may have to do this either because your primary hand has been injured before getting the gun out, or because your hand is occupied holding onto the bad guy. Methods for this include drawing it and rolling it over on your chest or firing in the ‘Australian Homie’ with the gun upside down and your pinky finger on the trigger.
We worked through the After Action Assessment process: what to do after the fight to make sure you’ve taken care of all the adversaries, are ready for the next gunfight, and haven’t gotten any holes in important places.
When performing a disarm it’s quite likely that the gun is going to go off. Randy demonstrated what happens when the slide goes off while you’re gripping the gun. If you have a good tight grip, the slide will move about a quarter of an inch. It’s not going to rip your hand up or anything like that. He had every student try this for themselves to see what it would be like. This is one of those things where you definitely don’t want your initial experience to be when you’re fighting for your life.
We did some contact shooting, firing with your body physically against the target. A lot of schools teach this as if you are face to face with an adversary at bad breath distance and you whip out your gun and shoot him. As we saw in the force-on-force portion of the class, this doesn’t really work. He can jam your draw or grab onto your gun. We need to seek out a position of advantage before going for the gun (again, position before acquisition). To simulate this, Randy had the students stand behind the targets facing up range, then eye jab the target’s head and work their way around, as if they were getting ‘behind’ the target, before drawing and shooting.
Next up was defending Sul. When we use Sul to check behind us as part of the After Action Assessment, there’s the possibility that we’re going to turn around and have someone right in our face, or even have them grab us before we turn around. We can deal with this using our contact shooting skills. Bring the support hand up into a horizontal elbow shield to protect our head and make sure it’s out of the line of fire and shoot from the close contact ready position. As long as you can rotate your body to face the adversary, this can work against an adversary from any angle. The one circumstance where it doesn’t work as well is if someone gets you in a bear hug from behind and you can’t turn around. The solution here is to reach down and back, point the pistol at their thigh, and press off a couple of shots. If you’re lucky you’ll get the femoral artery, but at the very least this should encourage him to turn you loose.
One disadvantage that a semi-auto has in the sort of ‘phonebooth gunfights’ that we’re talking about here is that if you jam it into the opponent, you can push it out of battery, preventing it from firing. Obviously, the best solution to this is don’t jam the gun into the adversary when trying to shoot, but sometimes the quarters are so close you don’t really have a choice in the matter. Another way to deal with this is to physically hold the gun in battery when you shoot. This can be done by pressing your thumb against the back of the slide or shoving the slide forward with your forearm or some other body part. This sort of thing is easier with striker fired guns like a Glock than hammer fired guns since you don’t have to worry about the hammer coming back. All of these methods will keep the slide from cycling, so you only get one shot, but if that shot can stop your adversary or give you the chance to break out of the clinch and fix your gun, it’s worth it.
Our last exercise for the day was shooting from the ground. At this point, we stapled up some lower targets to ensure we didn’t put any rounds over the berm. We started out with feet facing the target and drew and shot from this position. There was some more shooting lying on our backs with our heads pointed to the targets and shooting upside-down. Finally, we started out on our backs, drew and shot, then kept the gun on target while getting up.
With that, we wrapped things up. Randy passed out the certificates, and we cleaned up the range. Everyone left with the same number of holes they came with and joints that articulated the same way they did when they arrived.
The fun wasn’t over quite yet, however. Alex, another student, and I stuck around and put some rounds through hedgedawg’s full auto Uzi. I’ve shot this gun before (he ran it for half of the rifle class I taught last November) and it’s tremendous fun. Given Gabe’s recent push for interest in the semi-auto SMG, I spent some time shooting it semi-auto, but I let some rounds rip full auto too. I think I may need one of these (though mine probably won’t have the fun switch).
This was a great class. These are the sorts of distances a lot of real fights take place at, and they’re distances where the standard gun focused techniques just don’t work. We can try and keep from ending up in a hands-on fight through alertness and pre-fight maneuvering, but those aren’t foolproof. We need to know how to fight at these distances. This class is a real eye-opener for almost everyone who takes it, and I could see some students realizing just what these sorts of up close and personal confrontations are like.